Stuart McINALLY goes back to where it all began for him as an Edinburgh Rugby player tonight when Munster visit Murrayfield in the RaboDirect Pro 12 league.
The 21-year-old back row debuted in the corresponding fixture against the 2010-11 champions almost exactly a year ago but is keen to demonstrate just how far he has advanced.
“This is an important season for me having just left the under-20 international ranks,” admitted McInally, from Watsonians.
“While I’m extremely proud of my age-group honours I am now in a position to concentrate solely on being a professional player at a club.
“Previously I knew that a particular block of the season would be set aside for Under-20 Six Nations or World Cup preparations and that was the main goal.
“Now it is about pushing for a starting place from game to game and that’s a great environment to be in.
“I remember well the build-up to to my debut against Munster and it felt strange.
“Strange in the sense that, having watched Edinburgh for so long as a supporter, I suddenly found myself on the bench against one of the best teams around. It was exciting but nerve-wracking as well.
“It was an odd feeling, too, having been in the fortunate position of starting for most of the teams I had played with.
“By contrast I had to adapt to wondering if the coaches had a timetable for putting players like me on after, say, 60 minutes and, at the same time, be ready to come on after ten due to an injury.
“Being on stand-by was a new experience but ultimately my appearance came (as an impact sub) for Netani Talei and getting on and playing quite well gave me a bit of confidence.”
Munster’s squad contained a host of household rugby names, including Ronan O’Gara.
“O’Gara came off the bench for Munster at roughly the same time as me and my first act as a professional player was a good hit (tackle) on him. For me that was a satisfactory introduction albeit we suffered a painful 16-13 loss, but there’s no doubt that now being a second season pro is much better.
“I feel more settled and less nervous while the absence of players at the World Cup has created opportunities to have a run of games. There are guys even younger than me in the line-up which helps make me feel more established.”
This is the second successive home match in which Edinburgh will entertain league leaders, having toppled Connacht a fortnight ago, but for McInally the main reference point is last week’s defeat at Aironi which threw up defensive lapses. “Connacht was a massive win for us,” he says. “They were top and we dealt with it really well. It was a relief to get off the mark but we need to up our defence massively from last week if we are to come away with a result.
“One of the positives was a losing bonus point but the three tries we conceded came off first and second phase possession and all the emphasis this week in training has been on tightening our defence.”
Defence coach Billy McGinty is the main man for Edinburgh in that department but McInally revealed he is also able to return to his Watsonian roots on occasions for assistance and advice.
“The mentoring system introduced to Scottish rugby has paired me with Stuart Reid (eight Scotland caps from 1995-99) who is forwards coach at Watsonians.
“I have sat down with Stuart and it is brilliant the stuff he provides. He is very much involved in the club game and if I have got a problem I can phone up and say ‘do you fancy a coffee’. It might be that I’ve been left out a team or not made a squad in the past. Stuart relates his experiences and generally keeps my head up. The scheme was introduced by Gregor Townsend and it is something I can’t speak highly enough of.”
Meanwhile, in a bid to stop Munster extending their record breaking league run of wins to 15 Edinburgh coach Michael Bradley has made three personnel changes with call ups for Matt Scott at centre while Lewis Niven and Grant Gilchrist come back to start at prop and second row respectively.
Edinburgh’s only victory in their last five matches was against Connacht and they have won just once in nine meetings with Munster.
But they do have a balance of youth and experience; For example if Andy Kelly comes off the bench at hooker tonight it will be his 126th appearance and only two players have turned out more in the league.
Edinburgh: Thompson, Jones, Scott, King, T Visser, Hunter, Laidlaw, Traynor, Lawrie, Niven, Gilchrist, Cox, Denton, Grant, McInally. Substitutes: Walker, Hislop, Knight, Lozada, Watson, Leck, Godman, Brown.
Munster: S Deasy, J Murphy, T Gleeson, L Mafi, D Hurley, I Keatley, P Stringer; Wdu Preez, D Fogarty, J Hayes, D Foley, M O’Driscoll, T O’Donnell, NRonan, P Butler. Substitutes: M Sherry, J Ryan, S Archer, I Nagle, PO’Mahony, D Williams, D Barnes, S Zebo.